Geographic structure of adelie penguin populations: overlap in colony-specific foraging areas

Ecological Monographs

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In an investigation of the factors leading to geographic structuring among Ade??lie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) populations, we studied the size and overlap of colony-specific foraging areas within an isolated cluster of colonies. The study area, in the southwestern Ross Sea, included one large and three smaller colonies, ranging in size from 3900 to 135000 nesting pairs, clustered on Ross and Beaufort Islands. We used triangulation of radio signals from transmitters attached to breeding penguins to determine foraging locations and to define colony-specific foraging areas during the chick-provisioning period of four breeding seasons, 1997-2000. Colony populations (nesting pairs) were determined using aerial photography just after egg-laying; reproductive success was estimated by comparing ground counts of chicks fledged to the number of breeding pairs apparent in aerial photos. Foraging-trip duration, meal size, and adult body mass were estimated using RFID (radio frequency identification) tags and an automated reader and weighbridge. Chick growth was assessed by weekly weighing. We related the following variables to colony size: foraging distance, area, and duration; reproductive success; chick meal size and growth rate; and seasonal variation in adult body mass. We found that penguins foraged closest to their respective colonies, particularly at the smaller colonies. However, as the season progressed, foraging distance, duration, and area increased noticeably, especially at the largest colony. The foraging areas of the smaller colonies overlapped broadly, but very little foraging area overlap existed between the large colony and the smaller colonies, even though the foraging area of the large colony was well within range of the smaller colonies. Instead, the foraging areas of the smaller colonies shifted as that of the large colony grew. Colony size was not related to chick meal size, chick growth, or parental body mass. This differed from the year previous to the study, when foraging trips of the large colony were very long, parents lost mass, and chick meals were smaller. In light of existing data on prey abundance in neritic waters in Antarctica suggesting that krill are relatively evenly distributed and in high abundance in the Southern Ross Sea, we conclude that penguins depleted or changed the availability of their prey, that the degree of alteration was a function of colony size, and that the large colony affected the location (and perhaps ultimately the size) of foraging areas for the smaller colonies. It appears, therefore, that foraging dynamics play a role in the geographic structuring of colonies in this species. ?? 2004 by the Ecological Society of America.

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Geographic structure of adelie penguin populations: overlap in colony-specific foraging areas
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Ecological Monographs
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Ecological Society of America
20 p.
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